Vikings trying to stay in contention

Photo by Jim Hague/ The North Arlington boys’ basketball team is off to a 4-4 start, thanks to the exploits of junior forward A.J. Nocciolo (left) and senior guard Tyler Krychkowski (right). Head coach Dave Walsh is in the middle.

By Jim Hague

A few years ago, there was a popular biography of country and western music superstar Johnny Cash, starring Joaquin Phoenix and eventual Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon called “Walk the Line.”
Well, that has been the battle cry of the North Arlington High School boys’ basketball team this season. The Vikings are trying to walk the line around the .500 mark in order to remain in contention for a possible NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoff berth.
“We’re trying to hold the line at .500,” said North Arlington head coach Dave Walsh, whose team improved to the even-water mark at 4-4 with a solid win over neighboring rival Queen of Peace last Thursday night, taking a 69-57 decision. “We’re in the midst of a stretch where we have seven of our next 10 games on the road, including being away for the next four. So it’s important for us to get wins now.”
Walsh said that he began the season a little concerned about the Vikings’ inexperienced roster.
“I was worried about our lack of varsity experience,” said Walsh, who returned only two starters from the team that went 7-17 a year ago. “We had leads in the fourth quarter of our first two games and lost both of those games (to Secaucus and Becton Regional). We had to learn how to finish out games and win.”
Walsh knows that his young team has been improving.
“We’re definitely getting better,” Walsh said. “The more we play, the better we’ll get. We’re making better decisions with the basketball lately. I can sense that we’re getting better as we go along.”
Leading the way has been senior guard Tyler Krychkowski, who was the Vikings’ leading scorer a year ago. The 5-foot-11 Krychkowski, the soccer standout, has been equally as brilliant on the hardwood, averaging nearly 19 points per game. He had 27 in the win over QP last Thursday.
“Tyler has had to learn to do it with three different kids in the lineup, so it’s been a challenge for him,” Walsh said. “We have an idea that we have to get Tyler the ball. He knows how to score and knows what to do. I always tell him that the bottom line is simple. When in doubt, shoot the ball. He’s been getting his shots and he’s been making the shots.”
The Vikings’ other returning starter is 6-foot-3 junior forward A.J. Nocciolo, who has been averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“He plays hard,” Walsh said of Nocciolo, who is also the Vikings’ quarterback during the football season. “He’s someone who is capable to score inside for us. When he’s not in the game, we miss him out there. He’s a key player for us.”
Sophomore Thai Scott is the team’s starting point guard. The 5-foot-8 Scott is gradually getting better at running the Vikings’ offense and he scored 13 points in the Vikings’ tough loss to Lyndhurst last week.

Photo by Jim Hague/ Sophomore point guard Thai Scott has been rapidly improving, helping the North Arlington boys’ basketball team get off to a solid 4-4 start.

“He’s still learning the game,” Walsh said. “He’s learning that there’s a big difference between junior varsity and varsity. He’s learning how to handle the pressure and learning to cut down on his mistakes. He’s also making better decisions with the ball.”
Junior Julian Ortiz is a 5-foot-10 guard who handles a variety of responsibilities for the Vikings.
“He’s our best defender,” Walsh said. “He also handles the ball pretty well and helps with the offensive flow. He’s just a good steady player.”
The fifth Viking starter is 6-foot-4 freshman center Jose Checo, who has made the leap right into the varsity fray.
“He’s finally starting to take some shots and help out the offense,” Walsh said of Checo. “He’s doing a great job defensively, averaging like five blocked shots per game. He knows where to go on defense. He’s just young.”
Off the bench, Walsh calls upon the services of two football players in 6-foot-2 sophomore Nick Martin, who has been averaging nearly eight points per game as a reserve, and 6-foot senior Jesse Groome, who gives the Vikings more of an inside presence.
“He holds his own down low,” Walsh said of Groome. “He gives us a good physical presence off the bench and he’s a good leader in practice.”
Jeff Frytek, a 5-foot-11 junior shooting guard, is the Vikings’ version of instant offense.
“He’s our bomber,” Walsh said. “He comes in and starts launching shots from everywhere. He’s also able to give us good energy defensively.”
So the Vikings are taking a page from the man in black and walking that .500 line. So far, so good.
“We look at games now differently,” Walsh said. “We look at them having a chance to win. We have a better outlook in the long run.”
If the Vikings can survive the tough road stretch of games upcoming, they could be in the hunt for a state playoff berth in March.

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